By Julie Nickerson
After several major changes in the provost’s office and the absence of a study abroad director since February, students are left wondering what will happen to the study abroad experience at Simmons College.
“I hope they are able to turn around their department to better help students in their study abroad journey! I think it’s really needed at this school,” said senior Hannah Russell, who studied abroad in Delhi, India.
There have been many significant changes in to study abroad in the last year, after study abroad director Laura Bey left at the end of January.
Her position was covered by Richard Voos, special assistant to the provost, strictly in the administrative capacity, as he holds other duties in the provost’s office.
At the end of August, the study abroad and honors program administrative assistant Gabriela Antunes left Simmons.
With the absence of these vital positions in study abroad, students want to know what is happening next.
Junior Abigail Teetor a finance major currently studying abroad in London for the year, is a former student assistant in the study abroad office.
“The process is not easy and you will have to take initiative to make it happen, but it will be so worth it in the end,” said Teetor. “Start the process early and don’t be afraid to be insistent on getting answers from people. You have to learn to be your own advocate, because sometimes there is no one else there to be one for you. The most important thing is that you have to be proactive because a lot of the responsibility falls on you as an individual. And finally, take a deep breath. It is a stressful process, but you can do it! Make it happen. Studying abroad is one of the most amazing opportunities you will ever have.”
Teetor has had such a positive experience while studying abroad however she was surprised that the study abroad program has not reached out to her since her departure in September.
“I actually am unsure if I even have a contact in the study abroad program at Simmons,” said Teetor. “My former bosses have both left Simmons by this time— one left back in January. There has been no substantial effort made on behalf of whoever has taken over the program to make contact. Sharon Roberts from the Registrar did contact me to make sure they had new emergency information before I left.
“Since I worked in the office last year I know that there has been a huge lack of communication compared to what we normally have. I am afraid that the program will shrink even more since students get the feeling that the school doesn’t care about the program,” said Teetor, who is not alone in her feelings.
The Office of Study Abroad and International Programs is under the direction of the provost’s office and is currently supervised by Lisa Smith-McQueenie. Smith-McQueenie, who has worked at Simmons for more than 25 years in student affairs, recently transitioned to Assistant Provost for Diversity and Inclusion.
While Smith-McQueenie did not have the opportunity to study abroad in college she said “I’m very excited about working with study abroad and supporting the work of the office to grow and improve the program in exciting new ways.”
Last year students were concerned about losing scholarships when they studied abroad and Provost Katie Conboy was looking for a way to make studying abroad more affordable by allowing students to use their Simmons Scholarships abroad. Smith-McQueenie said, “I share her commitment to making study abroad reachable for everyone.” She also noted that revisiting different ways students may consider studying abroad would be of great value for the program, whether it be through faculty-led travel courses, community service or service learning, or through internship opportunities.
Simmons student Elizabeth Fine, a sophomore neuroscience major, applied to study abroad in Australia next semester.
“It was very stressful, especially over the summer when there were forms due soon that needed to be signed by someone from the study abroad office and no one was in the study abroad office to answer questions about the application process, nor answer my emails,” Fine said about her experiences.
According to the knowledge of the student workers from study abroad, no one was in the office over the summer, and Fine is not alone in her concern.
Although many offices aren’t fully staffed with students over the summer, numerous students have reported that the study abroad presence has been absent on campus. Smith-McQueenie did say that to her knowledge the administrative assistant, Gabriela Antunes, was available in the office.
Many students have even commented that it is a process you need to be motivated enough to do on your own. When asked if anyone helped her to apply, senior Amy Thornton said, “Laura [Bey] certainly did. She was the most supportive, resourceful guide for the entire process. But largely, I did most of the work. Lots of running back and forth between the Registrar’s office, study abroad, and financial services! I made many to-do lists.”
Thornton, who studied abroad in Varanasi, India, is actually one of seven students called Global Ambassadors, who are available to talk to Simmons students interested in studying abroad. However, many students are actually unaware that this is a resource available to them.
This year, about 48 students have applied for a spring semester abroad or a faculty-led travel course. Last spring, 66 people went abroad, and over the summer 36 students studied abroad. This semester 13 students are abroad and three are abroad for the entire year.
In addition to Smith-McQueenie, the office is currently supported by two student workers on a day-to-day basis. Student workers Carrie Zuk and Caroline Sullivan, both seniors, are “going above and beyond,” Smith-McQueenie said. “They are the front face of the office.”
“I think the numbers might be down slightly but we are anticipating that those numbers will go up. We aim for more students to study abroad than have been before,” said Sullivan.
“The message I would like to convey is that study abroad activities have remained steady and will continue to grow with a new director this November,” Smith-McQueenie said. Simmons just recently hosted the COF Study Abroad Fair this fall and held a table at the Connections Carnival, as has been done in the past.
Smith-McQueenie also secured additional student advising hours with the Director of the Geo Center, our COF consortium, although the workers commented that the COF advisor’s hours are not publicized because it is restricted to priority need.
The new director will be hired nine months after Laura Bey left, around Nov.10, and will have an opportunity to review best practices, hire a new administrative assistant, and settle in to the office in time to prepare for the next study abroad deadline. Students interested in studying abroad are encouraged to talk to student global ambassadors on campus or visit the website http://www.simmons.edu/offices/provost/study-abroad/ for more information.